REVIEW: Sword Art Online the Movie -Progressive- Scherzo of Deep Night

When we left Asuna (Haruka Tomatsu) and Kirito (Yoshitsugu Matsuoka) at the end of 2021’s Sword Art Online the Movie -Progressive- Aria of a Starless Night, the two had just defeated the boss of Aincrad’s 1st Floor and set foot into the grassy and mountainous 2nd Floor. Sword Art Online the Movie -Progressive- Scherzo of Deep Night skips ahead to the 5th Floor, where the duo has to race to defeat its Floor Boss to prevent the friction between the top frontline guilds — the ALS (Aincrad Liberation Squad) and DKB (Dragon Knights Brigade) — from turning into full conflict and jeopardizing their crucial cooperation.

The first adaptation of the Sword Art Online: Progressive spin-off light novels was a pretty decent Asuna-centric return to Aincrad, but it suffered a bit from including the anime-original character Mito (Inori Minase), who fit in well at the start before becoming an awkward presence in the second half. I found Scherzo of Deep Night to be a much more enjoyable experience, but its main story, aside from the moments that set up Player Killers as a future threat, is less engaging than following Asuna’s perilous early steps from out-of-her-depth newbie to formidable warrior. As important as it is for our protagonists to prevent the ALS-DKB conflict, the film manages to convey a sense of urgency or stakes regarding this plot point only once, during the scene where Asuna first learns of this potential clash by overhearing a conversation between shady individuals.

“While I’m happy to have Argo as a major supporting character instead of Mito, it’s the latter’s first reappearance that provided my favorite scene in the movie.”

Scherzo of Deep Night‘s story may be the least memorable of the few Sword Art Online movies we have so far, but its string of individual scenes and moments make up for it. Asuna and Kirito’s chemistry is on full display near the beginning of the film, and they really come across as the kind of couple that would make one smile just from observing their interactions. A catacomb trip later showcases Asuna’s determination and ingenuity, reminding us of how much Asuna has changed since the first film. 

Argo (Shiori Izawa), the information broker with whisker markings, finally gets to have a notable chunk of anime screen time in this film. She doesn’t do enough overall to be an absolute show-stealer, but her cheerful demeanour and Izawa’s distinctive voice gives her a strong presence in every scene she’s in, and a brief duel where she wields a banana provides one of the film’s highlights. Argo’s assuredness, capableness, and character design make her an welcome addition to Asuna and Kirito’s roster of allies, and I hope we get to see more of her.

While I’m happy to have Argo as a major supporting character instead of Mito, it’s the latter’s first reappearance that provided my favorite scene in the movie. The reunion between Asuna and Mito, who still remembers how she abandoned the former to death, leads to the dazzling (perhaps overly so) clash of steel teased in the main trailer that doubles as a solid emotional moment between the former best friends. I wasn’t initially keen on the idea of Mito’s return, but this unexpectedly absorbing sequence, along with the cool new moves she has in the movie, ultimately made me glad that she was created for the Progressive films.

When Scherzo of Deep Night was announced with a 2022 Japanese release date, it helped to explain why Aria of a Starless Night’s animation felt unpolished in spots and why there were so many animation directors listed. Unsurprisingly, Scherzo of Deep Night isn’t perfectly polished either (I wonder what things looked like in late August, when a delay was announced), but I no longer felt the same sense of stiffness I often got from many of the conversation scenes in Aria of a Starless Night, which was my main gripe with that film. 

On the action side, the aforementioned duels leave the biggest impression, both for the animation and their fun/emotional contexts respectively. The final battle lacks the punchiness of the TV series’ best action cuts or the desperate intensity of the first movie’s Illfang battle, but the boss mechanics and scale still allow it to be sufficiently engaging as a climatic action sequence. The opening battle, on the other hand, I practically forgot about by the time the credits started rolling.

I had little expectations for Scherzo of Deep Night, so it was a nice surprise to be met with a mishmash of appealing factors like the cuteness of Asuna and Kirito’s early interactions, the memorable duels, Argo’s presence, and the limited but effective utilization of Mito. While I’m unsure if future sequels (assuming there are plans for those) can match the pleasant enjoyment provided by this particular package (especially when it comes to Mito’s usage), it’s certainly given me a cautious appetite for more Progressive films. Regardless, I’m glad that a new entry hasn’t been announced for this year; even if the Progressive titles aren’t meant to match the action spectacle of Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale, they deserve better than an annual release schedule. 

Main Staff

Director — Ayako Kouno (Sword Art Online the Movie -Progressive- Aria of a Starless Night,)

Scriptwriter — Yukito Kizawa (Aria of a Starless Night)

Character design — Kento Toya (Aria of a Starless Night)

Action director/Monster designer — Yasuyuki Kai (Aria of a Starless Night)

Storyboard — Manabu Ono (Sword Art Online: Alicization director), Ikurou Morimoto (Love Flops), Masakazu Obara (Aria of a Starless Night), Ayako Kouno (Aria of a Starless Night), Yasuyuki Kai (Aria of a Starless Night)

Unit director Atsushi Usui (Aria of a Starless Night), Masakazu Obara (Aria of a Starless Night), Yasuyuki Kai (Aria of a Starless Night), Ayako Kouno (Aria of a Starless Night)

Music Composer Yuki Kajiura

Animation production studio — A-1 Pictures

Anime Trending News Writer who writes about all sorts of things, including upcoming anime series and movies, anime-related video games, animated music videos, manga and light novels, VTubers, and anime collaborations. Once in a while, he'll put out a review too. Every anime season, Melvyn looks forward to discovering new standout episodes and OP/ED animation sequences. Some of his free time is spent self-learning Japanese.
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